Year of our Lord, 1276.
In the hours just before dawn, blasphemous curses echo throughout the stone manor. A knife clatters to the floor, and a feisty young widow is bound, blindfolded, and led to the marriage altar. The king couldn’t possibly have sanctioned this farce of a marriage, could he? After all, she alone transformed a few mud huts and starving serfs into a flourishing town, never once hesitating to pay generous taxes to his royal kingdom. Abandon her beloved people to be ruled by her new husband, an ignorant Templar knight? Never! the Lady Ann vows.
A murderous witch for a wife? The Beast of Thornhill finds himself in the middle of either a cruel jest or an evil conspiracy. After returning from the Holy wars, he accepts endowment of a small parcel of land in return for saving King Edward’s life. But the reward comes with a warning regarding the estate’s mistress. Despite his insatiable attraction to the black-haired beauty, he allows her time to warm to him while observing her strange, forward-thinking ways. But when all is on the line, will he stand by her through the inquisition or will they both hang for her secrets?
One thick lock of bronze hair escaped the mass tied to her head. The length twisted past a full breast, beyond her navel, and just above a thatch of curly hair. There, he’d almost known her. Would she take him back? She’d haunted every one of his dreams, followed him like a wraith from London, to France, to Italy, the Holy Lands, and by God, back again. She would marry him. He’d insist. He cleared his throat and stepped out into the open on the lowest tier of bricks.
Eyes wide, her mouth dropped open, and she screeched. One arm covered both breasts and the other hand went low. “Thomas? Is that you? Haunt me not. Be gone. Damn you.”
He put melody to one of the hundreds of poems he’d composed as his lower appendage swelled for her. “Merry, Merry. So very ever fair-ye.”
“Good heavenly Father above. Now it sings?” She picked up a scrubbing brush lying beside a pile of her clothing. Fire from the hearth reflected red into her stunned eyes. Water sloshed over the edge of the highest pools onto the surface of the one below it. The lower edge of the middle bath did the same in perfect counterpoint.
He took a deep breath, jumped up three stairs, and opened his arms wide. “Nay a ghost, love. I’ve come back for you.”
A small nugget of soap whizzed by and would’ve grazed a cheek had he not stepped aside. She dropped to her knees with what he thought was a prayer, jostled in her belongings, and rose with the vicious edge of a dagger. She hissed and jabbed in his direction. “Nay. Be gone ghost. You can’t be Thomas. They said you were dead.”
“They? Who are they, dearest? There’s only I, your love. I’ve returned.” Three steps more brought him within an arm’s length. He reached forward with palms up.
With her un-daggered hand, she finger-poked him and her gray eyes went wider still. She paled when she hit solid mail under his tunic and for a moment their eyes locked like years ago and he was all but undone.